Road and rail projects increase connectivity in Qatar and the region


As it moves forward on major transportation and infrastructure projects mandated by Qatar National Vision 2030, the state is seeking to boost domestic and regional connectivity, enhance links to major residential and transport hubs within Qatar, and boost the flow of goods and services to the wider GCC. While road upgrades represent the most important facet through which to boost intra-regional trade, cross-border flows will receive their most substantial support via the state’s planned long-distance freight and passenger railway, with both witnessing steady progress in 2014. The state is well positioned globally, located at the crossroads of Asian, European and African trade routes. However, Qatar’s sole land link to the rest of the GCC passes through Saudi Arabia via Salwa Road, which has been notoriously congested, with queues at the border extending up to 18 km at times in 2012. Although Ashghal’s (the Public Works Authority) phased Salwa Road upgrade project opened to traffic in late 2013, significantly reducing bottlenecks, congestion remains an issue, both at the border crossing and within Doha. According to a September 2014 report published by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, increasing intra-regional trade volumes is central to Qatar’s diversification objectives. In its “GCC Economic Insight” report from third-quarter 2014, the institute noted that the state’s plans to connect its Lusail Light Rail Transit (LRT) and the Doha Metro systems to the GCC-wide railway network will have a transformative effect on its transport and logistics sector.

PAVING THE WAY: The Salwa Road upgrade involved a QR1.7bn ($466m) investment to upgrade and expand the existing Qatar-Saudi highway. A 6.9-km stretch from the Industrial Exchange to the Al Asiri interchange opened in May 2012, while the Salwa highway itself was expanded to four lanes on each side, stretching all the way to the Abu Samra border crossing, and representing the second phase of the project. The Salwa project is one part of Ashghal’s multibillion-dollar Expressway Programme, which comprises over 30 projects divided into 46 contracts. There are currently 19 expressway projects under construction, while the remaining projects are still in design or will soon enter the procurement phase.

EAST TO WEST: The QR3.9bn ($1.07bn) East-West Corridor will create strategic links with southern Doha, connecting the state’s new orbital highway and truck road with the recently opened Hamad International Airport (HIA). Expected to include both walkways and bicycle lanes, the project also comprises several signal-controlled intersections, with planned interchanges providing new access to key residential areas and roads including Al Matar Street, Najma Street Extension, Barwa Access Road and the new Al Wakrah Bypass. According to local media reports in 2014, the project will also accommodate construction of interfaces with the Doha Metro, allowing for a future long-distance rail corridor.

A QR2.23bn ($611m) contract for construction of the project’s eastern corridor was awarded to China Harbour Engineering Company in June 2013, while Joannou and Paraskevaides (J&P), a Cyprus-based company, won a QR1.67bn ($458m) contract for construction of the western corridor in the same month. Ground broke in April 2014, with work expected to finish during the second quarter of 2017.

LUSAIL EXPRESSWAY: The Lusail Expressway, meanwhile, will provide a vital connection to Lusail City, a growing development that could house as many as 450,000 residents on completion. The project will feature upgrades to the existing Al Istiqlal Road from the south Al Wahda arch roundabout to the North Channel Crossing. A 5.3-km, four-lane highway will feature additional lanes for interchange movement, with a total of three interchanges planned to create connections with the Pearl, Katara and Lusail City.

Furthermore, the expressway will connect to Lusail’s planned LRT system, in addition to the Doha Metro’s Red Line. The project, worth some QR3.5bn ($959m), is expected to open by 2017, with works contracted to Hyundai Engineering and Construction. As of February 2014 the project was nearly 30% complete, according to statements made by Ashghal.

ORBITAL HIGHWAY: Perhaps the most significant of Qatar’s current highway projects is the roughly 190-km new orbital highway and truck route, which will create an expressway with separate, dedicated truck lanes to Doha’s western areas, linking the new Hamad Port and Mesaieed Industrial City (MIC) with Al Khor in the north, and creating a vital road link to domestic transport hubs and industrial areas. Offering enhanced connectivity for Dukhan, MIC and Ras Laffan Industrial City, the project aims to create a north-south corridor diverted from Doha proper, reducing traffic and congestion within the city, while at the same time facilitating the smooth flow of goods and passengers.

Project works include 22 grade-separated interchanges, with roads designed to manage up to 1500 heavy good vehicles per hour in each direction, catering to general traffic volumes of 8000 vehicles an hour in both directions. The project’s dedicated truck lanes make it unique in the state, and are expected to significantly improve road safety by removing slower trucks from fast-travelling vehicles. As it will enhance connectivity to stadia in Al Rayyan, Al Khor, Lusail and Al Wakrah, the project is also a vital component of Qatar’s preparation for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

A host of awards for the project, divided into four contracts, were granted in 2014. Contract One, a 45-km dual carriageway, will connect Al Wakrah to Mesaieed Highway, and the new Hamad Port to the East-West Corridor in the north, the Al Wakrah Bypass in the east, and the orbital highway in the west. In January 2014 a joint venture between J&P Overseas and J&P Avax was awarded a QR3.26bn ($894m) contract for the work.

The QR4.2bn ($1.15bn) Contract Two, a 48-km dual carriageway connecting four separate expressway projects, including contracts three and four of the orbital project, Dukhan highway, the North Road, and the North Road relief projects, was awarded in March 2014 to a joint venture between Qatari Diar Vinci Company and Bin Omran Trading & Contracting.

Ashghal awarded Contract Three, worth QR6.1bn ($1.67bn), in March 2014 to a joint venture between Habtoor Leighton Group and Al Jaber Engineering, which will lead construction of a 55-km new dual carriageway, including five grade-separated interchanges. The contract will cover works in the west and south of Doha, providing connections between Contracts One and Two, as well as the East-West Corridor project.

Contract Four, entailing construction of a new 42-km dual carriageway, will cover works at the west and north of Doha, providing a connection between Contract Two, the Dukhan Highway, North Road and the Al Khor bypass. In May 2014 South Korea’s Daewoo Engineering and Construction announced it had won the $910m contract, with work expected to be completed in the second quarter of 2017.

RAIL: Although road projects will ease current capacity constraints and enhance connectivity between Doha’s ports, airports and border, the state’s planned long-distance freight and passenger railway represents a significant future driver of regional trade and travel. The Qatar Rail Development Programme includes the establishment of a long-distance network connecting major population centres and industries in Qatar, and forming part of the planned 2200-km GCC railway network, set to all six GCC members within the next decade.

Qatar’s long-distance rail network, which will be developed in phases, is expected to span 510 km. Phase One, set to wrap up in 2018, involves construction of a 133-km line from the Saudi border to Mesaieed and the new Hamad Port, as well as to an inland station, Doha West International, which will connect to the Doha Metro. Passenger trains will travel at 200 km per hour (km/h), while freight trains will travel at 120 km/h.

The second phase, to be completed in 2021, involves construction of a 171-km line between Doha West International, HIA and Bahrain. The line is planned to be incorporated into a causeway linking Qatar to Bahrain, under discussion since 2001 and approved in 2005. The causeway has since faced delays, including design changes to incorporate the railway, and is now stalled.

The high-speed passenger service is designed to travel at speeds of 250 km/h. Phase Three, expected to conclude in 2027, will involve construction of an 80-km line dualising the existing Doha West International and Bahrain lines, as well as new links to Al Khor and Ras Laffan, travelling at comparable speeds to Phase One. The fourth phase, which will finish in 2030, will span 128 km and connect the Qatari peninsula, from Doha West International to Dukhan.

Progress on the network has been steady thus far. In February 2014 a joint venture between Parsons and Systra was awarded a design consultancy services contract for the network, and Qatar Rail launched the prequalification process for the civil works tender in February 2015. The tendering process is expected to run through mid-2015, with the contract set to be awarded sometime in mid-2016. A separate tendering process will select a railway systems supplier, which will effectively act as a subcontractor to the civil works manager.